A verbal ruckus erupted in the Knesset on Monday when IDF officials admitted that their Sabbath-desecrating evictions of pioneers from Homesh in the Shomron are motivated by the desire to "enforce the law" and not by national security needs.
The admission was made by Central Command officers in the Judea and Samaria Subcommittee of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The army is permitted to carry out military activities on the Sabbath only in order to "save lives," loosely defined as anything that helps safeguard national security.
The session was called by Subcommittee Chairman MK Ze'ev Elkin, following the latest Sabbath eviction of Homesh this past January 1. A group of Sabbath-observing youths and adults were forcibly removed from the site after the Sabbath had begun, despite a previous agreement between the Deputy Defense Minister and the Knessset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee not to do so unless security needs mandated it.
Homesh is the site of one of the four Jewish towns in Samaria that were destroyed during the Disengagement in 2005. Unlike Gaza, the area was never given over to control of the Palestinian Authority; a court ruled last year that it is not illegal for Jews to return to the site – and in fact, since mid-2007, groups of Jews have visited and remained there on a regular basis, conducting Torah study classes and meals.
The army, however, has evicted the Jews from the site and confiscated or destroyed their equipment many times, often on the Sabbath -- and usually citing "security concerns" as justification.
When the officers admitted that the Sabbath-night evictions are in fact due to law-enforcement considerations and not based on security needs, MK Aryeh Eldad said, "We now see the truth, and it is now clear that the security establishment claimed 'security needs' in vain when it cited 'intelligence warnings' and the like to routinely evict the settlers from Homesh. In other words, for political needs, the IDF ignored orders from above forbidding Sabbath desecration for non-security reasons."
The Central Command officials also said that they do not have to ask the Chief Army Rabbinate if such evictions are allowed.
Brig.-Gen. Barr absent
Regional Commander Brig.-Gen. Itzik Barr, whom the residents blame for much of the tensions between the army and the Jewish populace, was not present at the session. Chairman Elkin expressed anger at his absence.
Strook said, "We receive complaints not only from the citizens who are evicted on the Sabbath, but also increasingly from soldiers and policemen who often feel taken advantage of, because they understand on their own that the actions that they are ordered to do on the Sabbath has nothing to do with security. This is a grave breach of trust on the part of the commanding echelons towards their soldiers, and it also stands in blatant violation of IDF regulations."
The "Homesh First" settlement organization responded to the news by saying, "It has now been proven that the panic to stop the return to Homesh is totally political. We draw strength from this political persecution; the more we see corrupt political echelons fighting us, the more we understand how important for the entire country it is for us to return to Homesh. We will continue until the return to Homesh and [the neighboring destroyed community] Sa-Nur is complete; the nation supports it, more and more ministers and MKs realize that it's important, and in the end, the government, too, will be obligated to wake up and correct the terrible injustice of the expulsion."